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Magen David Adom: History & Overview

Magen David Adom (MDA), literally the "Red Star of David," is Israel's official ambulance serivce, blood services and disaster rescue agency. It operates according to the principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Magen David Adom was officially granted membership in 2006 to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

- History of MDA
- Four Elements of Service
- Staff, Volunteers & MDA Youth
- Volunteer Training
- Get Involved

History of MDA

The first seeds of Magen David Adom in Israel were planted at a meeting held in Philadelphia in October 1918, attended by David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and Henrietta Szold.  There was great concern that the Jewish Legion of Palestine, otherwise known as the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers of the British Army during World War I, who were fighting to liberate Eretz Yisrael from Turkish rule, needed medical help.  A Magen David Adom organization was organized to aid both the Jewish Legion and the settlers in Palestine.  It was disbanded at the end of the war.

Magen David Adom was officially chartered as a result of the murderous riots of 1929, when farm and urban settlements - totaling some 170,000 of the country's Jewish population - were attacked by the Arab population, and were found to be lacking in even the most elementary first aid services. It was founded in Tel Aviv on June 7, 1930, by a group of seven Israeli doctors, as a one-room emergency medical service. MDA's first home was a dilapidated hut on the corner of Rothschild and Nahalat Benyamin streets in what was then the center of town.

A second MDA group formed in Haifa in 1931 and a third in Jerusalem in 1934. In 1935, a national organization was formed to provide medical services to the public and the Haganah. Its founding members were physicians, members of the Haganah and private citizens. At the time, the society's resources consisted of a small truck converted into an ambulance and several dozen dedicated volunteers.

In the years that followed, the society grew, especially in the wake of a second wave of riots that broke out in April 1936 and lasted until the beginning of 1939. During that period, MDA gave first-aid training to the Haganah and the auxiliary police and medical aid to the wounded.

During World War II, MDA worked within the general framework of Israel's Civil Defense Organization, as an arm of the Jewish Legion of the British Forces. Photographs from that period show Magen David Adom volunteers in official uniforms. Magen David Adom became the medical service of the Haganah, and MDA members administered first aid alongside the Haganah fighters throughout the 1930s and 1940s. With the establishment of the state of Israel, some of the society's most important members and volunteers were among those setting up the medical corps of the Israel Defense Forces.

In July 1950, the Knesset (Israel's Parliament) ratified the Magen David Adom Law, which states that Magen David Adom will function as Israel's National Red Cross Society, acting in accordance with the Geneva conventions. Specifically, MDA was given responsibility for: 1) Providing auxiliary service to Israel's Army Medical Corps in wartime, including providing emergency medical care for the wounded and war refugees. 2) Providing civilian emergency and medical and first-aid services and temporary shelter in emergency situations. 3) Maintaining a blood bank for civilian use. Subsequently, MDA has played a major role in providing vital lifesaving services during each of Israel's wars, skirmishes and terrorist attacks; as well as in times of peace.

The growing need and developing population of the new state brought about a parallel growth in MDA. New branches and stations sprang up throughout the country. The first modern ambulances were purchased, and the society's blood, first aid and first aid instruction services were expanded.

The Atlanta based Marcus Foundation donated $25 million to the MDA for the construction of a new blood services center located in Ramle, Israel in March 2015. The new facility will be named the Marcus National Blood Services Center, and will replace the older and more vulnerable Israeli blood services center in Tel Hashomer. A ventilation system to prevent against chemical attacks, as well as reinforced projectile-proof outer walls, will make the Marcus center much safer than the old location.

The 4 Elements of MDA Service

    1. Ambulance and mobile-intensive-care-unit services, with over 500 vehicles in the MDA Fleet.
    2. MDA Blood Bank services, blood components and derivatives and the fractionation institute.
    3. Permanent first aid and life-saving services, offered to the public at MDA first aid stations throughout Israel.
    4. Basic first aid training for MDA staff and the general public.

Staff, Volunteers and MDA Youth

Magen David Adom is operated by some 990 paid employees (ambulance medics/drivers, doctors, paramedics, blood technicians, communication center workers and administrative workers) and by thousands of volunteers (youth and adult). Most of the latter comprise a reserve force to be activated in times of emergency or special need. The volunteers are active in MDA's day-to-day operations.

A significant proportion of Magen David Adom volunteers are MDA youth 15 to 18 year olds trained by MDA in first aid. These MDA youth volunteers serve as assistant medics, dispatch center workers at MDA first aid stations, and substitutes for senior staff as required.. Some youth volunteers even serve as first aid instructors in MDA branches throughout the country.  Approximately 11,000, or 60% of the MDA's volunteer force, are teenagers.  Many Israeli high-school students choose to volunteer in the MDA to complete their 60 hours of community service mandated by the Education Ministry.  

Most branches of MDA in Israel maintain a wide range of youth activities. The MDA Stations also serve as youth clubs for MDA youth volunteers, fostering a high degree of social consciousness among their members. Following their military service, a considerable number of MDA youth volunteers return to MDA as volunteer ambulance medic/drivers, medics in times of emergency, etc. In this way the ranks of MDA youth serve as a continuous and inexhaustible reserve for Israel's national rescue organization. There have been a number of families which have handed the MDA volunteering tradition down from parents to children, with two generations of the same family serving as volunteers in the same station - or even on different shifts of the same ambulance team.

Volunteer Training

The first aid training program required of anyone that wishes to volunteer, is 60 hours long, for the subsidized cost of approximately $40.00. In return, each volunteer commits to giving at least eight hours or his/her free time per month.

The minimum volunteering period is two years and is conditioned upon successful completion of the first aid training program - theoretical and practical.

During the training program, volunteers learn cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, approach to patients, treatment of work and road accident related injuries, treatment of drowning and electrocution victims, treatment of infants and children and much more.

Upon completion of the course, volunteers function as part of an ambulance crew or in MDA stations, administering first aid patients. Such work is demanding and requires both concentration and physical strength. The volunteers' knowledge is updated and refreshed periodically in seminars where the basis of their knowledge is extended and new medical advances are presented.

How do you become a volunteer?

Once in Israel, contact Mr. Eli Yaffe, MDA's volunteer activity coordinator.
Telephone: 03-6300228
Fax: 03-6310108

Sources: American Friends of Magen David Adom-ARMDI [Official site];
Magen David Adom
Abigail Klein Leichman.  
Why Israel has world’s highest percentage of teenage EMTs, Israel21C, (November 6, 2017).